One of the highlights of our trip to Hungary was, undoubtedly, the chance to visit Baranta Valley, located in Upper Hungary, and dig a little in the fascinating local culture.
With the idea of continuing my long-term project about the different martial arts in the world, and meet some of the most important masters alive, I had the pleasure to photograph a practice at the headquarters of the Baranta Association in Upper Hungary, with founder and president Gábor Kopecsni, a gifted and kind person that is working hard to keep this precious legacy alive.
Following our usual intense and relentlessly routes, we attended the curious Hollókő Easter Festival during the morning – we will publish an article on this in the future – and left towards the mentioned valley, where we would have the opportunity to meet special people and make a first contact with an interesting martial art that is unknown by most, as it happens with the valuable Angampora in Sri Lanka.
Much more than a martial art
Founded in 2008, the Baranta Association in Upper Hungary chose this magnificent natural setting to establish their base, opening its doors to all those interested in learning more about Hungarian culture and the body of knowledge that encompasses this art.
Baranta is the martial art developed in Hungary between the ninth century and today, including wrestling and use of various weapons. Moreover, the term covers a wide range of knowledge, from history and folklore of the country, which includes topics such as psychology, community life or personal growth, among many others.
That’s the reason why Baranta Valley, also a research center with a rich library, was created with the idea of combining all of the above, offering visitors the option to train and approach to such knowledge, while having the chance to learn various crafts such as wood carving, basketry, sewing, pottery or furniture painting.
Once we reached the valley, our contact and collaborator in the creation and development of the center, the multifaceted Mede Ferenc, was engaged in the task of flying over the best places with his Szent Corona hot air balloon, and arrived a little late.
Fortunately for us, Mikolt, Gábor´s lovely wife and also a talented furniture painter, was present and provided us with good English translation during the first part of the photo shoot that illustrates this article, until the arrival of Mede and his friendly couple, Ilona.
Always interested in martial arts, Gábor told us that he finally found the path leading to himself in Baranta. After practicing Japanese martial arts, he came across mounted archery and other included disciplines, and had the feeling of “finding my way home”. For him, it is important and essential to take the heritage of his ancestors on.
Constantly learning from the best
For the past eleven years, since he discovered the right path, Gábor has been learning from varied experts. First, he was taught by mounted archer Imre Rőth and by Ferenc Vukics, the founder of Baranta. Other masters include Lajos Kassai, the world-famous mounted archer, and Zsolt Pucskó, who taught him staff fighting.
However, Gábor has been performing ethnographic research for nine years in the Upland (present-day Slovakia) – territory once belonging to Hungary and populated by Hungarians -, and in the Carpathian basin as such. He considers his real masters those old men and shepherds, to whom he goes to gather experience. From them he has learnt different styles of Hungarian folk wrestling, including ax and staff fighting, wrestling with bare hands and other difficult and effective techniques.
As a result of this intensive research, conducted for nine years in the upper area of Felvidéki – a region with strong Hungarian tradition that is now part of Slovakia -, Gábor has created the Felföldi style.
For our protagonist, the key is training and experience, and still has much to improve the style.“As I shape the style, it has to shape me, too”, he says. “I always seek new challenges and, if I am fairly good at performing an exercise, I try to find ways of performing certain movements under more difficult circumstances. By toughening and complicating the setting, we seek new challenges in studies and meditation.”
Author of several books on Baranta of the series Baranta Kiskönyvtár (Baranta Small Library), Gábor is a friendly and approachable guy, and the experience of spending time with them and photograph him in action – his mastery of the bow, the whip and other weapons is spectacular – was a real pleasure for us. When asked about the objective of martial arts, he says that the aim is to turn inwards, to learn to know ourselves and to be more humble. “If we see mistakes, we try to correct them. It is an inner journey, where we work together with our partners.”
“For me, Barata is more than a profession, it is a lifestyle. In short: Baranta is me.
Every movement or act is a reflection of my body, my soul and my spirit.”
The Folk Painter and the Blacksmith of the Bones
For those interested in visiting the Valley for training, I want to remark a couple of services and activities that are available and I find really interesting.
Born and raised in Transylvania, Kopecsni Mikolt studied old Szekler and Csangó furniture painting and is currently collecting the Palóc traditional folk motifs and revive them through painting.
Painted furniture with traditional folk motifs spread during the 18th and 19th centuries. Old furniture was decorated with floral and animal motifs which had symbolic meanings in that period.
Contemporary people no longer know or understand these ancient motifs, and Mikolt wants to collect and preserve such motifs and patterns, and trying to hand it over to the coming generations in a slightly reworked manner.
In 2001, the Hungarian art of chiropraxis helped Mede Ferenc avoid a dangerous surgery, so he decided to study it and learn the effective techniques, dedicating now some hours of the week to help others with mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system.
Traditionally known as the Blacksmiths of the Bones and ranked amongst the upper hierarchy, chiropractors had an essential role of relocating joints, ligaments and muscles of the haggard tribe representatives.
Mede gives regular chiropraxis consultations at Baranta Valley.
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